National Geographic : 1977 Oct
The rails. Outdated? Or an effi cient necessity? You can argue both sides. Wheel-on-rail technology goes back 150 years and more. In some areas track equipment and termi nals show their years. Though cer tain lines are well run, profitable, average return is low. Several roads are in marginal condition. It could cost $7 billion to modernize our entire network. Some say it isn't worth it. But railroads provide a fuel effi ciency important to an energy short world. Trucks are more mobile but rails move near 2,000 tons of freight per train load. High speed roadbeds can handle speeds to 80 mph. In ton mile terms, rails carry almost 40% of all inter city freight. 60% of our grain. More than 70% of our new cars, coal, lumber and household appli ances. Other modes would be hard pressed to carry the load should rails come to a halt. What to do? First recognize the importance of all transportation modes. Then support programs designed to relax some old notions about how they must do business; programs that will help maintain profitability. It may require changes by labor and man agement. But profitability is the key to an efficient, self-sufficient system. And changes in regulations, ser vices, taxing and financing are needed to let that happen. We care because Caterpillar products construct, maintain or operate transportation systems of all kinds - and we're one of the country's leading shippers. There are no simple solutions. Only intelligent choices. W CATERPILLAR Caterpular,Cat and Ears Trademarka of CaterpillarTractor Co.